Despite failing to get back to winning ways against Hull City during midweek, Sunderland managed to build on a promising performance last weekend with another decent showing against the league leaders. Only the woodwork prevented Aiden O’Brien from grabbing a late winner against Grant McCann’s side.
The draw in our last game means that Sunderland come into this game in a similar scenario to our last match, with an unbelievably slim chance of automatic promotion and the aim of winning as many games as possible between now and the end of the season in order to: either make the most of a Hull City or Peterborough collapse or to build up some form ready for the playoffs.
On the injury front, things seem to be improving slightly. Jake Vokins is available again after his heart irregularities, and Tom Flanagan is back in light training and hopefully close to making a return along with Conor McLaughlin. Aiden McGeady’s foot injury which ruled him out of the midweek game leaves him 50/50 for today’s game, which removes the chances of a repeat to his injury-hit playoff campaign a couple of years ago. Jordan Willis, Arbenit Xhemajli, and Dion Sanderson all remain out, although Lee Johnson is hopeful of seeing the Wolves loanee appear before the end of the campaign.
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.
Sunderland’s recent drop-off in form has probably served to prove many fans right about the ability of Lee Burge. When the outfield players, especially in defence, were playing well, Sunderland kept clean sheets, but as the team’s performance has dipped so have the performances of our number one.
This, essentially, marks Burge out as a mediocre ‘keeper who hasn’t cost us many points this season, but it's hard to remember a game in which the former Coventry man has been able to turn draws or defeats into victories due to his own individual brilliance.
Despite this, if Burge is mediocre then his understudy Remi Matthews is sub-standard which makes it less of a surprise that Anthony Patterson took his spot on the bench for midweek. Both of the senior ‘keepers are out of contract at the end of the year so it's likely that Patterson will continue to be around the squad with the intention of taking up the role of second-choice next year.
RB: Power CB: Wright CB: O’Nien LB: Hume
As I have already mentioned, Sunderland actually played quite well against Hull City so I can’t imagine there’ll be many changes to the side that started that game.
Max Power, Bailey Wright and Luke O’Nien are the only senior options in their respective defensive positions, so all three will start again this afternoon unless they pick up a late injury.
At left-back, Sunderland actually have three choices again after Jake Vokins has returned following his unfortunate lay-off. It may seem harsh, but Callum McFadzean is simply the worse of these three options and his shocking performance against Hull on Tuesday night only highlighted the need for Lee Johnson to bring Denver Hume back into the starting lineup. If Vokins is fit enough, I would drop for former Plymouth full-back from the squad altogether.
DM: Leadbitter CM: Winchester CM: Scowen
After shifting to a 4-3-3 formation on Tuesday night, Johnson stated that the formation is his preferred shape for the pressing style of football he wishes to implement at the Stadium of Light.
The three-man midfield makes it quite simple to predict who will start this afternoon, with Max Power and Luke O’Nien needed at the back, Grant Leadbitter, Josh Scowen and Carl Winchester are the only senior midfielders left to start in the middle of the park. Dan Neil, Chris Maguire or Aiden O’Brien are the only other players who could even remotely be in with a should of starting in a midfield trio.
Given how well the side played in midweek, I’m not expecting any changes in this position until Power or O’Nien are able to compete for a starting place alongside the current three players.
RW: Gooch LW: Jones ST: Wyke
Lee Johnson said in his press conference yesterday that Aiden McGeady is 50/50 for today’s game, but given that our automatic promotion chances are almost certainly gone, the closest I can see the Republic of Ireland international getting to game-time is a spot on the bench.
That means that the same front three from midweek are likely to start today, even if their roles are slightly different due to the absence of McGeady. Charlie Wyke will again be asked to play a more supportive role due to the lack of a number ten (or McGeady who operates in those positions), whilst Jones and Gooch will both be expected to stretch play and offer a threat in behind the Accrington defence.